It was an evening of giving back to those who have so selflessly been giving to their community. The occasion, the Municipality of Leamington’s 2016 Volunteer Recognition Reception on Wednesday evening, Sept. 14, at the Leamington Marina.
Among the dozens of honorees were the 2016 Citizens of the Year, Joan and Terry McSweeney.
For Joan, it was a thrilling surprise but she refused to take all the credit for the tireless efforts that led to the opening of the Hospice Erie Shores Campus in April.
“So many people gave of their time,” said Joan. “We are not alone — it took a huge number of people to make hospice possible.”
And Joan didn’t look at it as an effort — it was more for the love of the project.
“It was an absolute joy to do this,” she said, “This was our baby.”
The couple served on the hospice board and have helped design, facilitate community consultation, feasibility studies and took the lead on organizing the fundraising campaign requiring $6 million to build the 10-bed residence.
During the actual construction, Terry also served as project manager and continues to assist with landscaping, maintenance and site management.
A man of few words, Terry was obviously delighted with the recognition but said, “After 50 years of marriage, I just do what I’m told,” he laughed.
Now retired, Joan said she has the time to commit to volunteerism in the community, especially when it’s so near and dear to her heart.
But volunteering is nothing new to Joan.
She has given so freely of her time for years, improving the quality of life for the entire community.
In addition to her hospice work, Joan has organized Christmas parties for the county’s children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society, volunteered with the SECC, collected clothing and household items for new Mexican Mennonite families arriving in Leamington, served on the Board of the Crisis Intervention Centre, volunteered as an addiction research counsellor, served on the Leamington Police Services Board, served on the Parole Committee, was chairperson of the Leamington Area Family Health Team, and an acting member of the St. John’s Anglican Church Parish Council
As master of ceremonies, Deputy-Mayor Hilda McDonald, couldn’t say enough about the recipients of the award, which was donated by Peter and Margaret Tombs of Royal Leamington Spa, England.
“Their efforts have bettered the lives of the young, the old, the healthy and those who are facing illness,” said McDonald of the couple.
The McSweeney’s were not alone in being recognized for their volunteer efforts within the community.
The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners were presented with the Service to the Community Award.
According to McDonald, this award “is presented to an organization or deserving group of individuals whose single project brings the greatest benefit, comfort or hope to the citizens of Leamington.”
Gleaners is an interdenominational organization that provides free dehydrated soup mix and dehydrated fruit which is distributed locally, as well as to reputable relief agencies worldwide.
Gleaners makes use of unmarketable fruits and vegetables donated by growers. Volunteers cut up the produce, which is then mechanically diced, dried and packaged as soup mix or fruit snacks.
They have distributed over 1.6 million servings of their products to local schools, as well as First Nation Reserves, Haiti, Cuba, Guinea, Bosnia and Zambia.
The efforts of Leamington youth were not forgotten either.
Taking home the Youth Volunteer Award, which is presented to young people 18 and under who have participated in volunteer activities that have benefitted the community, was the Leamington District Secondary School Eco Team.
The team, which was revived in 2013 and headed up by teacher supervisor Lisa Jeffery, focused on making their fellow students more environmentally aware as their first project. They conducted energy and waste audits within the school and shared those results with the entire school.
With an incentive provided by the Greater Essex County District School Board of 25 per cent of their energy savings from January to June, the team jumped into action, labelling light switches and computers and reminding their peers to conserve energy. The school saved enough to buy every student a stainless steel water bottle and install a water filtration station.
The following year the savings grew and the Eco Team is using those funds to build an outdoor classroom when their new school opens in 2017.
The team has expanded its focus beyond the classroom walls. They have been focusing on the harmful algal blooms and have since become partners with ERCA in the ‘Algaecation’ campaign which is focusing on raising the awareness of the algae bloom threat in Lake Erie and helping protect the wetlands of Hillman Marsh.
The Eco Team has also teamed up with Point Pelee National Park in an effort to improve youth programming and also assisted them on plans for new facilities to be used for field trips, Eco Team retreats and camping expeditions.
Their work has been so successful that it caught the attention of reknown environmentalist David Suzuki, who paid them a visit.
But giving back to the community is nothing new in the Municipality of Leamington. Service groups, organizations and individuals have been responsible for improving the quality of life for local residents for many years and they were also recognized for their efforts.
Representatives of the Leamington District Hospital Foundation, the Leamington Goodfellows, the Leamington Horticultural Society, the Leamington Mersea Historical Society, the Leamington Lions, Leamington Minor Ball, the Leamington Triathlon Committee, the Rotary Club of Leamington, the South Essex Arts Association and Toys 4 Tots were recognized for all the work they do and treated to a barbecue dinner grilled by Leamington CAO Peter Neufeld and Rob Sharon, director of infrastructure services.